Chapter Twelve: “The Storm”
(Rating Out of 15)
After the disaster that was “The Great Divide,” anything would be an improvement. As icing on the cake, “The Storm” also happens to be a pretty good episode, a fact even more significant when you consider that “The Storm” is essentially a flashback episode meant to finally explain just how and why Aang and Zuko ended up where they are.
I can’t really decide if having the storm connect the two stories was a really cheesy or a really smart idea. Perhaps it was both, but either way, it works. DiMartino and Konietzko and company should be given credit, too, for not having the back stories simply dissolve into sappy sob stories meant to bully us into feeling anything for these two. The bare essentials of how they got here is enough.
As the episode begins, we learn that Aang has been having nightmares involving a giant storm and the spirit of Monk Gyatso asking him, “Why did you leave us?” Aang and Appa are taken down by the storm and Aang freezes them inside an iceberg. These images have been distressing him for a while.
During the day time, the kids are in a market wondering how the Hell they’re going to get food when they don’t even have any money. Luckily, a fisherman just happens to be walking by and his wife just happens to not want to go with him because she believes a storm is on its way. Sokka quickly volunteers for the job after the fisherman tells his wife that he’d pay double to the one who would go with him. He pays his wife to go fishing with him? That’s odd. No one else seems to think so, though.
Before Sokka casts off, the fisherman notices that Aang is the Avatar. And he has quite a few harsh words to say to him about how he disappeared for one-hundred years and allowed the war to happen. This scene is pretty clumsy, although I guess episode writer Aaron Ehasz did the best he could by making the old man as upfront as possible. I think it could have been just a little more subtle, though.
So Aang runs away and Katara follows after him on Appa. The fisherman and Sokka do indeed go out to sea, and I must say, it’s kinda nice hearing someone other than myself tell Sokka to shut the fuck up.
Meanwhile, on Zuko’s ship, Uncle Iroh senses a huge storm is approaching as well, and advises Zuko put off trailing the Avatar for now and go find shelter. Zuko refuses to, even going so far as to tell the ship’s lieutenant directly to his face that the Avatar’s capture is more important than their individual lives.
This, of course, quickly comes back to bite him in the ass when a storm does start forming. A fight nearly breaks out between Zuko and the lieutenant when he calls the former a “spoiled prince” with no respect for his hard working crew or a care for anyone but himself. Luckily, Iroh breaks it up. I don’t remember if the lieutenant or any of the crew members are developed beyond this episode, but it’s still nice to hear how they feel about this whole Avatar business. They’ve got lives, too.
So Katara finds Aang in a cave and gets him to talk to her about his nightmares and his feelings of guilt: he seems convinced that the fisherman was totally justified for being so mean. This sets up the flashback to Aang’s past.
At the same time (I guess), Uncle Iroh overhears the lieutenant badmouthing Zuko to the crew again and decides that they should learn why Zuko is so pissed off all the time.
Was it such a good idea to have both stories told at the same time? Sometimes the cross cutting between stories is pretty dissonant, and I can’t really tell if it was intentional or not. It doesn’t always feel right. But anyway, here’s the two stories:
Aang finds out from the Air monks that he is the Avatar, a fact they’d known since he first choose four distinct toys from among many, many others. (How many others is not specified. In fact, this whole ritual isn’t very well explained. I mean, it makes sense in a way, so I guess that’s enough.) Normally, the Avatar is told this when he/she is sixteen, and thus mature enough to handle the news. However, they tell Aang when he was twelve for a very important reason: war is on the brink; they need him to start training to bring balance to the world immediately.
This changes everything for Aang. Suddenly, his friends don’t want to play with him anymore because they feel that whatever team he’s on would have an unfair advantage. The sheer diplomacy of this reasoning makes it all the harsher.
To make things even worse, the Air monks agree that, for the good of all Mankind, he and Monk Gyatso must be separated. Gyatso, being his only true friend in the whole world (besides Bumi, I suppose), wants desperately for Aang to grow up normally like everyone else. This is all but an impossible request, unfortunately.
After overhearing this, Aang flies away on Appa out to sea. This is where he was brought down by the storm and nearly drown before he froze himself and Appa inside an iceberg—not awakening for a hundred years.
There’s only one part of Aang’s story that bugs me. Near the end, Gyatso actually comes to Aang’s room the night he left. He wants to assure Aang that he wouldn’t have them separated, but to his horror, Aang is already gone, a note in his place for those curious enough to ask why. Did this really happen? If so, how did Aang know if he was already gone by that point? Or is this what he thought happened? This isn’t adequately explained.
This tale has a nice resolve, though. Aang regrets not having been there to protect everyone once the Fire Nation attacked and killed all the Airbenders. But, as Katara helpfully points out, there’s nothing he could have done had he been there. He would have been killed, too. And the droids would now be in the hands of the…
The point is, Aang got lucky, and he should not take that for granted. He’s here now, and he should do what he can to save the world.
If we were tallying up sympathy points, Zuko would win, no contest. Yeah, yeah, Aang’s duty to the world is a great burden and he was only twelve, yada, yada. As far as I’m concerned, they only wrote Aang’s story so that they could write Zuko’s. Aang may carry the literal weight of the show’s world on his shoulder, but Zuko carries the emotional weight of the actual show on his, and when you’re dealing with fictional storytelling, that accounts for so much more. (It’s the exact same reason people tend to remember Gollum more than Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.)
And it’s all so incidental. Zuko just wanted to see what war meetings were like because he felt that, being the future king of the Fire Nation, he should know. Iroh allows him on one condition: do not speak out of term. Zuko breaks his promise, but he’s actually justified. The generals were planning to have a whole group of freshly-recruited young soldiers killed so that the more experienced fighters could use this distraction to launch a surprise attack. Zuko’s outrage stems from the fact that the generals would just use the young soldier’s patriotism and loyalty to simply have them killed.
This does not go over well with anyone, especially not his father, the Firelord. For speaking out against the general—a sign of disrespect—Zuko is forced into an Agni Kai. However, it’s not the “disrespected” general he’d had to fight. For speaking out of term in the war room of the Firelord himself, Zuko has to fight his own father.
It’s so gutwrenching to hear Zuko beg for mercy and refuse to fight his father, who dismisses all of that in order to teach Zuko his lesson. So that’s how Zuko got his scar. And that scream… I get chills every time.
So for refusing to fight, thus showing “shameful weakness,” he was banished from the Fire Nation, allowed to return with honor only after he captured the Avatar, who was still missing at that point. So really, the Firelord wasn’t expecting Zuko to come back at all. But of course, Zuko would never believe that, and only now has a chance at returning to the man who banished him in the first place. Wow, my head hurts.
Back to the Present
Finally, the storm has gotten much, much worse. The fisherman’s wife finds Aang and Katara to let them know that both her husband and Sokka are still out at sea, and that they must be saved. While that’s happening, Zuko’s ship is struck by lightning. Bad timing, too: Aang and Katara just happen to fly by on Appa, but rather than risk their lives any further, Zuko opts to get the ship to safety. That decision and saving the helmsman from falling to his death finally puts him on good terms with the lieutenant.
Aang and Katara’s rescue mission is pretty thrilling, I’ll admit. Seeing them navigate around, over, and through giant waves is pretty awesome. They find the fisherman and Sokka and manage to get them on Appa. Unfortunately, a wave takes them down, sending them below the water.
Aang goes into the Avatar State, and for a split second, my reaction was, “Oh, shit! He’s going to freeze all of them for ANOTHER HUNDRED YEARS?!” But nope: he just saves all their lives. Still, what a mighty big risk!
We see that Zuko’s ship has managed to find safety in the eye of the hurricane. Zuko gives Iroh a sorrowful apology for nearly getting them all killed, which Iroh eagerly accepts. And then they see Aang and the others fly out of the water and way above the eye, out of sight. You know, it’s really telling when your sighs of frustration are for the “villain” and not the hero.
So the episode concludes with the fisherman actually apologizing for his earlier comments, saying if Aang wasn’t here, he would be dead right now. That sure is mature of him.
Overall, a great episode. I’d rate it higher if Sokka’s few appearances weren’t annoying as Hell. At the end of the episode, he says, “Do you hear that? It stopped raining.” First of all, that’s a stupid line (basically he asked, “Don’t you hear that silence?”). Secondly, how can we “hear” it if you keep talking over it, moron?
Oh, and earlier on when they talking about nightmares having meaning, Sokka said they shouldn’t go to the market because food eats people. Uh huh. Did De Sena come up with that one?
All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.